Once upon a time, when I was a man,
I worked as a man, I lived as a man
(they were not necessarily the same
men, they were only boys, playing at men’s
pursuits, poor devils, now you know better) . . .
and I loved like men were said to have loved
to beget such as me, who escaped wars
as easily as undressing Irene
after she took off one shoe, lay her foot
against my thigh, nudging to be closer . . .
In the vineyards I wielded pruning shears,
in the dairy of a hundred milk cows–
both enterprises not monopolies,
this was when Monopoly was a game–
I harvested the grapes, I milked the teats,
I learned to churn butter within my love’s
lovely churn, and I was the first to pour
milk into the separator and turn
her body so she could sit upon me
as long as we took to become pure milk . . .
But that was when Juan was Irene’s lover,
Irene was Juan’s lover, they were in love
and who could blame them, only those who knew
what a car was for when you were in love
and had no other place to go to love.
That was when Juan cut back the naked vines
and stripped each teat of what was left in it,
then went to the fields to play, not the same
fields where he worked, no, here was the contest
between boys pretending to be men . . .
The cows cropped grass and ate hay to give milk.
There was always the day between milkings.
In autumn, after pruning, rituals
of water flowing through ditches, shoveled
and hoed, the tractor entered the harvest
pulling its trailer loaded with boxes
of clusters of ripe grapes like my love’s hair,
not Irene’s but this one, whose name I know
only as Leila Shulamit . . . Dusky
Jewess her friends have named her with their love
unconditional, her head of hair shorn
by her own hand, and if her friends know why,
only I am left to understand why . . .
She has told me until she is angry–
It’s your idea of me but not me . . .
Even now her hair is thick like the fur
I knew from long ago when I once loved
one whose own brown skin nestled her black curls
of hair . . . Irene’s not as thick as Leila’s
whose hair is the weight of memory now.
(26 January 2011)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander